Photoshop Makes Peace Not War: Photoshop Masks

tagged Photoshop by Jon

Dude, stop yelling at Photoshop every time something goes wrong and you think you have to hit the dreaded F12 key (revert) and start over from scratch. It isn’t necessary. Photoshop is forgiving and loving. Time to make peace and save a whole lot of time while you’re at it. Let me explain this little thing called non-destructive editing.

Photoshop MasksNo, no. Not that kind of mask

Photoshop Masks is the first in a series to come of articles on Photoshop’s amazing non-destructive editing abilities.

What is Non-Destructive?

Non-destructive means that the original data of the image is preserved. If you have used proper non-destructive techniques on your Photoshop project, you will be able to go back and make changes to all the effects and filters you have applied to your document without ever using the Undo command.

Photoshop has a plethora of non-destructive editing tools. Knowing how to use them will increase your workflow, flexibility and awesomeness. Here are some non-destructive tools that will make you not suck at photoshop.

Layer Mask

The layer mask pretty much replaces any need for the eraser tool. Rather than chopping up an image, just use a layer mask to hide the parts of the image you don’t want to be visible.

Here’s an example of what you can do with layer masks.

Photoshop Masks: Layer Mask 1

Okay, say you wanted, for some odd reason, to create an image similar to the one above. One bitmap image superimposed over another. You would just paste the apple image over the top, size and position it, then take out the eraser and remove the background around the apple. Right? No, that would be destroying the apple image. Somewhere down the road, you may need a part of the apple you erased.

This is how you should do it.

Photoshop Masks: Layer Mask 3

You will have two layers. The background and the apple that has been sized and positioned. This is what you are seeing in the first step above.

In the second step, a marquee was made around the apple using the Pen Tool [P] in paths mode.

Photoshop Masks: Layer Mask 2

(a) - With the apple layer selected and the marquee still wrapping around the apple part of the image, click on the Add Layer Mask button (a in the diagram above). This masks out everything that was not selected by the marquee and the result is just the apple showing. Notice the edges are a little rough. Don’t worry, that will be fixed in the next step.

(b) - This is the Layer Mask Thumbnail. Click on it, then select the Brush Tool [B] with white as the foreground color. Brush around the edges of the apple to clean it up and over the side to hide the apple where the statue’s fingers are.

If you mess up, you are totally screwed. Actually just kidding, just paint with black as the foreground color to show parts of the apple layer. That completes step 4.

The spectrum of grays between black and white will create different degrees of transparencies. Using a black to white gradient on a layer mask will fade the layer from 100% to 0% opacity. I use this to create reflections underneath logos and things.

(c) - Clicking on the link icon next to the layer mask thumbnail (c in the above diagram) with toggle whether or not the mask will follow the layer object when it is moved.

Clipping Mask

Clipping masks are very similar to layer masks but consist of an independent layer. You can have unlimited clipping masks stacked onto one layer.

My tutorial on how to Create a Scorching Hot Metal Effect takes advantage of clipping masks.

Photoshop Masks: Clipping Mask 1

To create the above, select the Horizontal Type Tool [T] and type something on a new layer underneath the layer containing the image with the statue. Right click on the statue layer and select Create Clipping Mask

Photoshop Masks: Clipping Mask 2

Your layers should now look like the above. You can freely modify the text in the bottom layer to fit your needs.

Up to this point, all the original data from the bitmap images and text has been preserved. You can easily modify them now without worrying about the Undo function.

In Part 2. . .

The two non-destructive methods I just covered are fairly common and you may already be familiar with them. But, in part 2 of the Photoshop Makes Peace Not War series, I will show you some lesser known and some CS3 exclusive techniques that will make your photoshopping projects a lot less of a pain in the ass.

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Sean Hodge
January 31st, 2008

I like the concept behind the article. I look forward to the next series. Thanks.

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Michael Mogill
April 2nd, 2009

Nice and simple overview of a very important concept. ;)

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acctivecomputech
January 17th, 2010

Great techniques, Photoshop CS4 is having even more enhancements.

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John Everson
August 17th, 2010

Nice work with layers ;)

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Yakup
September 7th, 2010

Hohh very good. Great techniques… Thank you.

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web development
December 4th, 2010

I am looking for such type of informative news and i get through this blog so i am very much thankful to you for sharing such a great information.

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